And the GOOD NEWS is …

The bad news won’t be news to you. Clearly a global pandemic is going to seriously impact mental health. And young people will bear the burden of the lack of social interaction and opportunities to explore their growing independence.
But THE GOOD NEWS is something that many people aren’t aware of. That there’s a really effective education program operating in Queensland to re-engage young people who have severe mental health issues with learning. And with life. Because the right approach to education is the foundation for so many positive developments.

For the last 6 years, the Barrett Adolescent Special School at Tennyson in Brisbane has been supporting young people in the community with severe mental health issues who had lost hope of finding a education option that could meet their needs. Until the relocation of the school that had been onsite with the treatment centre at Wacol. And with teachers with expertise in engaging students with learning that enables and empowers, lives are being changed for the better.

Until the Barrett School was available to students beyond the inpatient cohort at the Wacol centre, there were (and still are) young people all through our communities who had (and have) lost touch with education. Modified attendance at their regular school, a flexi-school, Distance Ed. … can all fail to understand the needs of those with severe and complex mental health issues. But when Guidance Officers could begin referring students to the Barrett School, hope was finally alive in those young people and their families in the Brisbane area. (Here’s the federal MP for Moreton giving an insight into how it can start.) 

It’s not a short journey. From extended isolation to the rewards of a bespoke education. Even when there are knowledgeable experts supporting young people in an appropriate environment. But with individualised programs that are continually modified and evolving, there are so many ways that young people will develop and learn as they take each step. The whole school team at Barrett devises, reviews and adapts the learning plans of each student with ongoing liaison with base school guidance officers, family members/carers, clinical care providers and MOST IMPORTANTLY, the young person themselves. So that experiences that facilitate their learning also align with their interests and their capabilities, providing opportunities for success and progress. Social and personal growth happen in nurturing environments as knowledge and skills are acquired. And new pathways then begin to open up. The Barrett School’s case management allows young people to explore a range of ways to acquire abilities and information, to set goals and achieve outcomes – from TAFE/ vocational training to academic pursuits to work experience and more. All with the stability of a guiding team of understanding teachers and, perhaps for the first time, with classmates who indicate that you are not alone in the challenges that seemed to set you apart from peers in every way.  

Being disconnected from learning in adolescence has wide-ranging consequences. So becoming connected can be a revelation. Every young person deserves to experience a meaningful education. One that begins to show you who you are and what you can do with your life. And that both of those has considerable value.

So we salute the educators who are opening the door to a future to those who felt left in the dark. The education team at the Barrett Adolescent Special school are a precious resource. A gem that, while currently unique, doesn’t need to be rare. If the government acknowledges the asset as it should, we should see more of these programs throughout the state. There are currently no plans in that area so that is clearly something we must advocate for. (And we’re just a few weeks from a state election. So if you email the Premier and the Education Minister now to stress what young Queenslanders need, that could make a real difference.)

You can read more about the Barrett Adolescent Special School on our Qld Govt (Education) page here, on our page about Support Schools here, and at the school’s website here. Congratulations to Education Queensland on a specialised service that is becoming more vital every day!


This is the second of our October series, ‘Focus on EDUCATION’.

If you haven’t checked out the first yet, you can do so here or go direct to the linked video here.

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